The Social Network for Innovators in Motion
DSLR cameras do not (as you know from the mixed reports you've read) have enough image stabilization in their form factor in order to afford choreographers/filmmakers the freedom to take the camera and go handheld wild. I think the excerpt below sums it up for others who are reading this but have yet to do the research. DSLRs are STILL cameras (always have been). "Judder" is the shake experienced when the frame is not stable (the term comes from actual film 16mm/35mm) not being held down properly by the film gate when it passes in front of the shutter. With DSLRS, it appears digitally in wavy lines when one is holding the camera and moving around too fast for the camera to catch up. Additionally, via the experience of another choreographer who is learning with her Rebel T2i, in one instance, she had to set the focus on the face of the dancer but the rest of her image is soft. Unless you want this effect, it is unacceptable on the big screen. She can't move quickly around her dancer(s) - perhaps one could fix this in post-production by simply manipulating the speed of the clip to get the desired effect and moving the camera slowly (which totally kills the momentum as a filmmaker).
I would head for any number of the Canon Vixias that shoot 1080p. (I am biased towards Canons, so maybe you want to research other brands as well). Still a camcorder, but more bang for your buck with the image stabilization you will need to move around. What are the manual settings that you are looking for? There's a lot of manual things one can do with Canons, from exposure to focus, etc.
And, with the money you save, you can construct or buy a shoulder mount to eliminate wrist shakiness/fatigue if you are doing a long take. One friend of mine made a PVC pipe "steering wheel for his camera and mounted the camera right in the middle of the circle.
This is the excerpt, for others:
"...there’s a reason handycams look the way they do, following many years of development to find the optimal weight distribution and layout. DSLRs are built around a different way of working and so, while they may shoot beautiful images they’re a bitch to use as video cameras, in the traditional way. The single most determining factor in this can be attributed to the much-hated rolling shutter effect produced by the CMOS chip. Other people have explained this far better than I ever could, but essentially the image is written progressively in lines starting at the top and working down. This is done insanely fast, but not quite fast enough. You’ll see that the image at the bottom of the frame has been processed from a period of time a fraction later than that written at the top. If you pan hard you see a very noticeable shearing effect as the image appears to lurch horribly in the direction of the pan. Worse still if you accidentally knock the camera then you will literally see the image turn to jelly as the shake puts the image horribly out of sync with itself. Try shooting handheld with a heavy lens and this effect will haunt you and make your footage look amateurish. We’ve been so spoilt with image stabilisation systems on video cameras that we forget just how much input we actually generate movement wise just by being flesh and blood. The rolling shutter doesn’t just show this up, it actually exacerbates it. Basically you’ve got no chance (as much as you might think it’s looking okay on the screen). Worse still, it looks like shit.
So, if you want to seriously consider using your DSLR for pro video work, you need to invest in support for it. At its most basic level this means keeping the camera still so buy a tripod, or put the camera on a flat surface. When buying a tripod you really don’t need to invest massive amounts nor do you want to be paying the price for shite fluid heads when time’s against you. I’ve had much experience of the cheap end of the Manfrotto range and I hate them. If you spend around £400 on a tripod then you ought to expect a decent level of engineering and robustness, but don’t expect miracles. DSLRs are lightweight and only need lightweight tripods. My pick was the Libec LS38 which sacrifices flexibility for simply the best fluid head in the category. It’s not the best tripod I’ve ever used but I can live with its shortcomings. A tripod is absolutely essential for any kind of video work so it’s an investment that will stay with you for a good long time.
Handycams are brilliant because everything is attachable to the camera, if not already built in, DSLRs are crap because everything is not attached. If you’re a stills photographer then the most you’re ever really likely to need to attach to the camera is a flash (sorry guys!) whereas video peeps are always sticking all manner of crap like top lights, radio mic receivers, boom mics etc. DSLRs have a hot shoe mount but it’s not really designed to accomodate anything heavier than a flash and you’ve only got one mount. Cages are systems designed for giving you huge flexibility to attach whatever you fancy to your camera. A long time ago it was agreed that camera accessories should be attached by an eight of an inch screw and that means whatever you buy accessories wise there will always be a way of attaching it to your rig. Cages basically build around the camera giving you a kind of exoskeleton on which to attach mics, monitors, lights, audio recording devices and anything you feel like. Avoid livestock, doesn’t come with pre-tapped eight of an inch holes. Cages are great but they are pretty limited. You’ll generally find options to place handles either side with which to work handheld but really they’re most at home on a tripod, and that’s absolutely fine, but if you’re like me and shoot handheld, shoot fast and need to be more flexible then you’ll need to look into a different solution.
If you are hopeful of shooting handheld then you will probably have dipped a toe in and found a dizzying array of fabulous looking rigs, rails, cages and god knows what else, all proclaiming to be the answer to DSLR work handheld. Don’t buy the hype. Just because a Zacuto rig costs twice as much as your camera doesn’t mean it’s going to change your life because it’s just like so amazing yeah! I’m not going to bash Zacuto here because I’ve never used the kit but I wouldn’t ever buy from them – just too damn expensive. The plain and simple matter is this: if you want your shots stable and devoid of rolling shutter idiocy, then find something that will get the camera supported on or against your shoulder. It doesn’t matter how you do this, who you buy the rig from, if you find a way of achieving that then you will find that characteristic shake and judder pretty much eliminated. BIG CAVEAT: DSLRs demand that you become a much better cameraman, deal with it. Practice makes perfect and there’s so much to think about shooting with these cameras that you’ll most likely be completely overwhelmed by it all initially.
Thanks Danielle, I appreciated your very detailed and helpful response. I have to say I really love the possibilities which a DSLR offers with changable lenses and shallow dept of field. However, I absolutely see the drawbacks of it for movement and the awkward workarounds necessary. On my research I have come across the Panasonic AF100. This seems like a very interesting option which is newly on the market. Well worth having a look at test footage on link below.
Anyone know/using it?
Hey, Mary, I haven't come across anyone who's used this (and sorry for such a long pause in reply), but it just came up tonight in the film lab here in Utah about how it's a great camera because it's compatible with 35mm lenses (which is perfect for what you're looking for).
Thanks for sending on the vimeo channel - it's really great to see the camera in action. Do let me know if you get one to use because I'd love to see your work.
I bought it last week! (Panasonic Af100) It is fantastic. I'm currently getting to know it and have some add-ons to get, to make it very efficient for my use ie. follow focus and rods for heavier lens. I have a Screendance project in development which will be shot over the summer whilst I'm off from my lecturing duties. I will keep you posted on how the camera is going for me.